Blowing Smoke Up Your Ass

From Holden:

The Bush Justice Department, hot on the heels of an announcement earlier this week that they would only seek 8% of the penalty likely to be imposed on our nation’s tabacco criminals, seeks to let Big Tobacco even further off of the hook.

The government announced yesterday that it will further scale back its demands for penalties on the tobacco industry in a landmark civil racketeering case, saying it is no longer seeking to help 45 million American smokers quit their habit.

In the surprising final day of an eight-month trial, the Justice Department’s lead attorney said the government now wants tobacco companies to pay only for smoking cessation programs for an unspecified number of future smokers who may become addicted to cigarettes in the first year after the trial concludes.

[snip]

Anti-smoking activists and industry lawyers ridiculed the government’s description of its new cessation proposal. They said Justice officials seemed unable to answer basic questions about how many people it would cover, how the government would verify which smokers became addicted in the first year and who would be barred from getting help.

“In 48 hours we’ve heard three different plans from the government about its proposed cessation program,” said Philip Morris attorney Ted Wells. “And it’s almost comical to listen to the government try to explain it.”

William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the last-minute changes suggest political interference by the Bush administration to soften the blow for the tobacco companies.

“It appears senior Justice officials decided on an amount of money and are now trying to justify that amount by describing a cessation program that doesn’t make sense and won’t work,” Corr said. “They are changing the cessation program to protect the financial interests of the industry rather than 45 million addicted adults.”

[snip]

Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), who asked the Justice Department’s inspector general on Wednesday to investigate possible political interference in the case, asked yesterday that he expand that investigation to include the government’s request that two witnesses alter their testimony, as reported in The Washington Post yesterday. They also asked Inspector General Glenn A. Fine to look into the changes announced by the government yesterday.

[snip]

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who will decide the case and whether to order penalties against the tobacco industry, has the power to reject government sanction recommendations and select measures she considers appropriate. The two sides could settle anytime before Kessler issues a ruling.

Even the tobacco industry’s lead attorney is protesting this latest move.

Dan Webb, lead tobacco attorney in the case, complained to Kessler that the government is recommending changes in penalties for the industry “too late in the game.”

“The government keeps changing its remedies on a day-to-day basis,” Webb said. “It’s a moving target.”

Political cash takes precedence despite the fact that the First Lady is addicted to tobacco.